Last weekend I drove out to Eckert's Farm in Belleville, IL to get a Christmas tree.
I suppose I could have gotten one a little closer to home but I wanted a big ass tree and because I didn't want to go tree lot to tree lot hunting down said big ass tree, I resorted to calling places that advertised on the internet. Eckert's had plenty of tall trees and was only 25 minutes away, so that's where I went.
Eckert's has their pre-cut trees next to their restaurant, right up next to a wall of windows. I guess that's the section of the restaurant where people have to hang out while waiting to be seated and there were a lot of gawkers watching me pace back and forth between the somewhat expensive trees and the full-blown expensive trees. I kept coming back to one particular tree, in the full-blown expensive section, and at one point some people tapped on the glass and mouthed "how much is that tree?"
I flipped the price tag around so the group could see it and one lady about fainted. I got a thumbs up, but I also got some eye rolls. That meant I'd found the right tree; if you're not gonna get a little ridiculous with the Christmas decor, is it even really Christmas? Plus, I went there for a big ass tree, and that particular tree was definitely a big ass tree.
I had 'er bundled up, got 'er strapped down in the bed of the truck, drove home, and then started to wonder how I was going to manhandle it into the house.
That tree, top to bottom, was just under 11' tall. The weight was manageable, but I had to throw it over my shoulder to carry it in and keeping everything balanced just right while walking up about 10 steps was tricky. Then I had to navigate the foyer, which isn't big. She's tall, but not wide or deep.
Yada yada yada, I had to move some furniture but I got 'er in the house. I cut off the bottom so it'd fit in the tree stand, got the tree stand situated just right, tightened the tree stand screws, and stood 'er up...kinda nailed it, first try. No adjustments necessary.
When it was all said and done, I was left with a tree that stood about 10.5' tall. I was a little upset that I didn't get one a tiny bit taller and really scrape the ceiling, but flying solo, I'm not sure I could have handled a tree any bigger than this.
The following day I got the thing decorated. I didn't fool around with a tree skirt - baby steps; this is my first tree in about 15 years - or worry about cord management, and the ornamentation is a little generic, but regardless, that tree, and the scent, really made the house feel a little festive. I was pretty excited about how it all turned out.
I'll probably take the next week or two off from rehab work, but once we hit 2022 it's "game on". Merry Christmas!
The other day I realized that in Google street view you can go back and see images from previous years. I've always been curious about the big maple tree in my front yard, and how it came to be so disfigured and oddly shaped. I don't have any answers to that, but older Google street view pics indicate that up until about 10-12 years ago, she was a full tree.
Now, I'm doing everything I can to save what's left. There's still some work to be done - I've gotten just about everything I can get to from the ground - and I may have somebody come out this winter with a lift to deal with the stuff I can't reach.
That said...it's kinda neat to see the changes to the front landscape over the past year and a half. For example, the year before I closed on the place she looked like this:
That big bushy chunk of green in the center of the pic, as well as the much taller stuff directly behind it, as well as the stuff to the right of it, all 1 tree. If you follow the fence line down towards my neighbor's house, you can see a downed limb laying across the fence; apparently that was a common occurrence and my neighbor would have to deal with it or the limbs would lay there forever. From the front of the house, that shot looks like this:
From in front of my neighbor's house, that looks like this:
And now, after an absolutely silly amount of tree trimming with not much more than elbow grease and a ridiculously long pole saw, as well as some other minor landscaping endeavors (I really haven't spent a lot of time dealing with the front yard, the ivy kinda is what it is for the foreseeable future):
By all rights the lower 4 or 5 limbs should've been pruned decades and decades ago, but now if I get rid of them - the big one sticking out to the right in the pics - there won't be much tree left. The hope is that by eliminating the dead stuff and selectively trimming the branches growing the wrong direction, the interior of the tree will regenerate itself a bit. I've seen new growth on the lower limbs so I think the tree is healthy, now it's a matter of getting it to regrow, as much as it can, where it's been butchered in past years.
Side by side, those shots look like this:
I think the tree looks a little happier now, eh? Sometimes it's good to remind myself that for as much work as there is left to do, quite a bit has been done already.
Well, I did NOT get around to building Roscoe's bed, but I did manage to at least purchase the supplies for it. Truth is, work (at my corporate job) has sucked for, like, 2 straight months now, each week getting more nonsensical than the week before. Sometimes when the weekend rolls around I just don't have the energy, brainpower, or patience to follow plans, read a tape measure, get the saws dialed in, etc.
About 6 months or so ago my boss and his boss got fired (as did another dude), and my group got absorbed by another group. 60 years of company experience got walked right out the door bright and early on a Monday morning, 100% out of the blue. The group's primary ChemE, ME, and EE were dismissed. The ChemE and ME were never replaced, and the EE was only replaced very recently, resulting in a lot of us having to oversee projects this year - in the wake of the firings - we had no experience with. We made it work but it wasn't easy.
About 3 months ago, a new guy was brought in to manage my group. Both he and the guy he reports to, the guy whose group absorbed mine, are the polar opposite of the guys who got fired. It hasn't been miserable by any means, but it's a very difficult situation to deal with and the bottom line is that I'm pretty sure the new guys in charge want to bring in their own people, not be stuck with a bunch of dudes they simply inherited. Some stuff that happened Friday has made me feel like they're going to start dropping that hammer tomorrow, and if/when that happens, I'm pretty sure I'm the guy who they'll make an example out of.
Needless to say, I didn't have it in me to do a whole lot of thinking this weekend and I sure as shit couldn't stay focused on much of anything, so...on Saturday I rented a jackhammer and busted up the concrete sidewalk that had been near the previous porch.
As usual, Freckles was never too far from the action.
It was pretty mindless work, although that was my first experience with a jackhammer and given that I'm in the worst shape of my life - a 6 month stretch of chaos and stress at work will do that to a person - it was a bit of a workout. I busted up the concrete enough to remove it by hand and later this month I'll get a dumpster parked out front, and I'll get rid of the busted up concrete then. For now it'll just sit in a few piles in the yard.
I also dug up one of the old porch post footings, which was only a few bricks stacked on top of each other. It's kind of amazing that for the new porch, code says I have to dig a hole 30" deep, 16" in diameter at the bottom and 12" at the top, and fill it with concrete; I'm not saying the bricks worked just as well as the concrete will, but even after 140+ years, those bricks really handn't settled a whole lot.
That was Saturday. On Sunday. I went out and got stuff for Roscoe's bed as well as some Christmas lights. I've never really put any up, ever, and while the goal is NOT to become Clark W. Griswold, I wanted to get some up this year.
Aside from trimming a few tree limbs and cleaning 9 tons of leaves and acorns off the roof - which I just did all of about a week ago - that's what I did, I hung Christmas light along the cornice at the front and one of the sides of the house. I wanted to hang more, but just draping the few strands that I got up was kind of a challenge because 1, the cornice is kinda dicey in some spots and 2, I didn't have a lot of material with which to affix Christmas lights to bricks, mortar, or the goofy liquid flashing the roof has on top of the parapet.
But I got the lights up, about like I wanted, and I even got BOTH dogs to sit on the front porch for pics. Granted, I didn't get both dogs out there at the same time because the odds of that working out were zero, but still, that was kind of a big moment for Freckles. Roscoe would sit out there or do whatever I asked him to do for as long as I asked him to do it. Freckles, on the other hand...she's still learnin' and easily distracted by anything and everything...so I was pretty surprised - proud, even - when she sat still for me for a few seconds.
That was the weekend, jackhammering and Christmas lights and trying not to think too much about the blessing in disguise that may be another round of firings at work tomorrow.
The Next Project
I'm gonna go a little off topic here, but that's OK; it's my blog and I can do what I want. 🤣
I have some really awesome neighbors, and I haven't been able to say that for a long time. There's a lady that lives in the carriage house across the alley, and every now and then when she walks her dog, if Freckles is out, she'll let her dog come up to the fence for a few minutes and Freckles loses her shit with excitement. On one side of me, there's a retired guy that lives in 1 unit of a duplex and his mom lives in the other. Both are super friendly and I see them out and about all the time; they both take frequent walks around the neighborhood together. A littler further up the road there's an older guy who lives in the big apartment building and he always spends a few minutes talking to me - mostly rah-rahing my rehab work - when we see each other. On the other side of me, in the goofiest of coincidences, it's a guy (and his wife) who loves old buildings as much as I do (he runs the Landmarks Association of St. Louis), loves dogs, is the same age as me, and played hockey in his younger days much like I did. We always chat across our shared fence and occasionally drink beers around my fire pit. He's always super cool about Freckles' complete lack of any sorta chill when he's over.
That neighbor I just mentioned, his 14-year-old dog Oscar passed away yesterday. I didn't get to know his dog other than what I could see through the fence, mainly because Oscar didn't get around too well anymore and he was probably traumatized by my home's previous occupants and their ridiculous pack of unruly dogs. But hearing about a dog passing away is always tough because 1, you obviously feel awful for the person who lost their pet/buddy/family member, and 2, if you've got a dog, especially an older one like I do, the situation hits home pretty squarely.
So that's a bad deal. It also may have snapped me out of the lazy funk I've been in for the past couple weeks. I think I might just spend a day this coming weekend building Roscoe a new bed.
I get the dogs Christmas presents every year.
Freckles' primary gift, and it's really a gift to me I suppose, is a DNA test. I got Roscoe's DNA tested when he was 10 and I thought it was super cool to find out what breeds he is, what breeds his parents and grandparents were, etc. I figured I'd do the same with Freckles, but not wait until she's 10.
Then there's Roscoe. What do you get a dog that has 42 of everything, has been on 17 million hikes and adventures, has a diet that's just as much salmon and chicken and sweet potatoes as it is dog food, and could no longer care less about toys? A new bed, of course, but there's more to that story.
Roscoe has always been allowed to pretty much lay wherever he wants to, be it the floor, my bed, the couch, wherever. He's always had big pillows and dog beds and stuff like that but when he was maybe 3 or 4 years old I wanted him have something a little more formal. Something a little off the floor. Something different. Something unique.
So I went to the local big box dog stuff store and got a big dog bed pillow thing and then sorta built a half box around it with a little platform to elevate the bed, kind of a crate-lookin' thing. Make no mistake, this wasn't high-end woodworking or anything like that, just a fun little project I threw together. And ya know what? Roscoe slept in that bad boy every night for years and years after that.
Ol' Roscoe, he had thick back legs, and hair on his tail, and he wasn't all calloused up and lumpy back then. Different story now, unfortunately.
Anyhow, I guess I never noticed it until Freckles came along, but that bed has become sort of a living piece of furniture. You'll see what I'm talking about in a second, but there's a spot on the side, near the front, where Roscoe always laid his head and over time wore away the stain. There are a million little claw marks, accumulated a couple at a time, on the front board from Roscoe stepping on it every time he got in and out of bed. There's a spot on a corner where I wore away the stain from using it to put my boots on before work every morning.
And, a more recent acquisition, there's a little spot by one of the handles where puppy Freckles tried to eat the bed.
See, the first night Freckles lived with us, she zonked out from all the excitement and slept in her kennel with zero problems. The second night, when it was time to go to sleep I put her in her kennel and, in a sign of things to come from the little alpha girl, she wasn't having it. At all.
So I brought her into my room and she slept in my bed for a few nights. No problems, aside from the one time I woke up at like 3am because she had fallen between the bed and the wall, got stuck, and was SCREAMING.
But then, one night, she just plopped down in Roscoe's bed and it's sort of been hers ever since. Roscoe's never been a very aggressive dog - unless the line eventually gets crossed, then watch out - and he's too old to want to fight over much of anything, so he's let Freckles have his bed.
He's kind of transient throughout the night now and he bounces around from one place to another, but he typically sleeps just outside the bedroom door, facing the front of the house, protecting the house and its sleeping occupants. Roscoe has the "protector" gene times about 600.
But, I think part of the reason he sleeps outside the bedroom is because he doesn't have his own bed in the bedroom anymore.
So...I got Roscoe a new dog bed pillow thing. BUT, it's not just ANY dog bed pillow thing.
Last Christmas I got the dogs a big pillow, for the front room of the house, from Big Barker. It's plenty big for both dogs, and one of the best dog-related investments I've ever made. Roscoe spends more time on it than Freckles, but it's plenty big for both of 'em.
I wound up getting the first Big Barker bed because that brand seemed to consistently rank at the top of best dog bed lists, particularly for aging dogs with joint issues and/or pain. Roscoe seems to like it quite a bit so I figured I'd get him another one to sleep on, albeit not another XL size, and I'll make sure Freckles knows its his, not hers. That has to be better for him than sleeping on the floor.
Roscoe's 2 months away from turning 13. On our weekly hikes, which Roscoe still seems to enjoy as much as ever thankfully, it's like dealing with somebody with Alzheimer's. He walks really slowly behind me and Freckles and I have to stop pretty frequently to let Roscoe catch up, a far cry from his younger days as a frontrunner that would outpace me. But every now and then, like every 10-15 minutes, he'll get a little burst, pick up the pace, pass me, and proudly walk like he did as a younger dog. Those moments are fleeting and only last a few seconds, then it's back to the slow pace at the back of the pack.
It may be impossible to do anything above and beyond the current regiment of Vetoryl, fish oil, joint supplements, and a diet high in legit good, healthy proteins and fats, but if a new, proper bed will help, I'll always be willing to try.
So really, Freckles didn't steal Roscoe's bed so much as she just got a head start on inheriting his hand me down. And maybe a quick, fun, pressure-free little build will get me back on the construction horse and I can get back to work on the house.